In their photos, Yvón looks young. It’s her smile and the way she perks up her body for every shot as if she’s presenting herself to the world, as if she’s saying, ta-da, here I am, take it or leave it. It doesn’t hurt that she’s barely five feet tall or that she doesn’t weigh nothing. She dressed young, too, but she was a solid thirty-six, a perfect age for anybody but a puta. In the closeups, you can see the crow’s-feet, and the little belly she complains all the time about, and the way her breasts and her ass are starting to lose their swell, which was why, she said, she had to be in the gym five days a week. When you’re sixteen, a body like this is free; when you’re forty—pffft!—it’s a full-time occupation. The third time Oscar came over, Yvón doubled up on the Scotches again and then took down her photo albums from the closet and showed him all the pictures of herself when she was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, always on a beach, always in an eighties bikini, always smiling, always with her arms around some middle-aged eighties yakub. Looking at those old hairy blancos, Oscar couldn’t help but feel hopeful. Each photo had a date and a place at the bottom, and this was how he was able to follow Yvón’s puta’s progress through Italy, Portugal, and Spain. I was so beautiful in those days, she said wistfully. It was true—her smile could have put out a sun, but Oscar didn’t think she was any less fine now; the slight declensions in her appearance only seemed to add to her lustre and he told her so.
You’re so sweet, mi amor. She knocked back another double and rasped, What’s your sign?
How lovesick he became! He began to go over to her house nearly every day, even when he knew she was working, just in case she was sick or decided to quit the profession so she could marry him. The gates of his heart had swung open and he felt light on his feet, he felt weightless, he felt lithe. His moms steady gave him shit, told him that not even God loves a puta. Yeah, his tío laughed, but everybody knows that God loves a puto. His tío seemed thrilled that he no longer had a pájaro for a nephew. I can’t believe it, he said proudly. The palomo is finally a man. He put Oscar’s neck in the New Jersey State Police patented niggerkiller lock. When did it happen? What was the date? I want to play that número as soon I get home.
Here we go again: Oscar and Yvón at her house, Oscar and Yvón at the movies, Oscar and Yvón at the beach, Oscar and Yvón talking, voluminously. She told him about her two sons, Sterling and Perfecto, who lived with their grandparents in Puerto Rico, who she saw only on holidays. She told him about the two abortions she had, which she called Marisol and Pepita, and about the time she’d been jailed in Madrid and how hard it was to sell your ass, and asked, Can something be impossible and not impossible at once? She told him about her Dominican boyfriend, the Capitán, and her foreign boyfriends, the Italian, the German, and the Canadian, the three benditos, how they each visited her on different months. You’re lucky they all have families, she said, or I’d have been working this whole summer. (He wanted to ask her not to talk about any of these dudes, but she would only have laughed.)
Maybe we should get married, he said once, not joking, and she said, I make a terrible wife. He was around so often that he even got to see her in a couple of her notorious “moods,” when her alien princess took over and she became very cold and uncommunicative and called him an idiot americano for spilling his beer. On these days, she threw herself into bed and didn’t want to do anything. Hard to be around her, but he would convince her to see a movie and afterward she’d be a little easier. She’d take him to an Italian restaurant, and no matter how much her mood had improved she’d insist on drinking herself ridiculous—so bad he’d have to put her in the truck and drive her home through a city he did not know. (Early on, he hit on a great scheme: he called Clives, the evangelical taxista his family always used, who would swing by—no sweat—and lead him home.) When he drove, she always put her head in his lap and talked to him, sometimes in Italian, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes sweet, sometimes not, and having her mouth so close to his nuts was finer than your best yesterday.
Oh, they got close, all right, but we have to ask the hard questions: Did they ever kiss in her Pathfinder? Did he ever put his hands up her super-short skirt? Did she ever push up against him and say his name in a throaty whisper? Did they ever fuck?
Of course not. Miracles go only so far. He watched her for the signs that would tell him she loved him. He began to suspect that it might not happen this summer, but already he had plans to come back for Thanksgiving and then for Christmas. When he told her, she looked at him strangely and said only his name, Oscar, a little sadly.
She liked him, it was obvious. It seemed to Oscar that he was one of her few real friends. Outside the boyfriends, foreign and domestic, outside her psychiatrist sister in San Cristóbal and her ailing mother in Sabana Iglesia, her life seemed as spare as, say, her house.
Travel light, was all she ever said about the house when he suggested buying her a lamp or something, and he suspected that she would have said the same thing about having more friends. He knew, of course, that he wasn’t her only visitor. One day, he found three discarded condom foils on the floor and asked, Are you having trouble with incubuses? She smiled. This is one man who doesn’t know the word quit.
Poor Oscar. At night he dreamed that his rocket ship, the Hijo de Sacrificio, was up and off but that it was heading for the Ana Acuña Barrier at the speed of light.